There’s an old saying that perfectly sums up my take on the rerelease of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 3D:
You can’t polish a turd.
I don’t remember where I first heard that… I have a feeling it was from my Dad. Wherever, whenever, I think it perfectly sums up my feelings after taking in an afternoon showing of the film last week.
Some context – back in 1999, Biff Bam Pop’s Perry and a whole bunch of other folks lined up outside a theatre to see The Phantom Menace at a midnight screening. The hype was huge, as you’d expect, and I think we all walked out of the film feeling like we’d seen something kind of cool. I know I did, since I went to see it two more times in the theatre before it’s eventual release on home video. The thing is, in my mind, the real issues that plague the film were found once you tried watching it at home, on a small screen, without a group of other Star Wars fanatics surround you. It’s there that you realize the film just is not good, at least not for those of us who had grown up on the original trilogy and had long been waiting for new Star Wars films.
Flash forward nearly 13 years to 2012, and this time I’m sitting in a theatre with Perry and his son. It’s odd and something special to sit with two generations of fans, including one who hadn’t actually seen The Phantom Menace before. But as the adventures of Qui-Gon Gin, Obi-Wan Kanobi, Padme, and young Anakin Skywalker played out across the screen, I couldn’t help but shift in my seat. With a few notable exceptions (the pod race, which was pretty cool in 3D, the lightsaber battle between Qui–Gon, Kenobi and Darth Maul), I was bored big time for the first time watching The Phantom Menace on the big screen. The bloom was off the midichlorians.
But here’s the thing – the little boy sitting next to me, the one who has grown up without any sort of bias to direct at George Lucas, the one who will always believe that Greedo shot first, enjoyed the film. He thought it was fun, and probably even liked Jar-Jar Binks (heck, even Perry and I chuckled at a few of Jar-Jar’s lines). There’s something to be learned from that, I think.
Us geeks, we’re just so demanding. We want what we want, and when we don’t get it, we think we can do better. We throw out all sorts of criticisms, which stops us from being fans, which I think is what brought us to the dance in the first place. Our geek sense of entitlement can overshadow the fact that not every movie is made with us in mind. For better or worse, The Phantom Menace surely wasn’t. It was made for the little boy sitting next to me. That’s not a bad thing.
Of course, at the end of the day, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 3D is a turd. But what you and I find bad might just wind up beloved by the kid sitting next to you. That’s something we’ll just have to deal with.